The Surviving Spouses Pension Fairness Coalition is a national lobby group seeking the repeal of unfair clauses in the federally regulated pension plans, which deny the benefits of a survivor pension to some spouses.
We comprise pensioners associations, trade unions, seniors’ organizations and other groups who are eager to protect the rights and interests of retirees and their spouses. These organizations represent more than 5.2 million Canadians. They are listed in the Partners page.
The Coalition was conceived in 2012 and became public with development of this website, in 2014.
A Fairness Issue
In the six federal Acts regulating pension plans, the definition of the eligibility to a survivor pension contains exclusion clauses related to the retiree’s marital history:
a) If the retiree is over 60 at the time of the union, the spouse is not eligible. This clause is found in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP pension plans.
b) If the union happens after the retirement date, the spouse is not eligible. This clause affects Public Service and
Crown Corporations retirees, as well as retirees from the private sector under federal jurisdiction (banks,
transportation, communications, etc).
c) For Judges, if the union happens after they cease to hold office, the spouse is not eligible.
d) For Members of Parliament, if the union happens after they cease to be a member, the spouse is not eligible.
Lobbying - Three Elections and a Pandemic
Three years prior to the 2015 election we made a commitment to change these unjust laws. Then we made plans, recruited partners who shared our goal, and built a website. During that period we opened communications with the leaders of the political parties.
Soon after the Liberal majority win in 2015, we increased communications with them under the new Prime Minister, the ministers directly responsible for each of the six Acts regulating the pension plans and a few indirectly responsible. We explained the issue, and presented our goal and our arguments in view of gaining their support for our cause. We got a lot of promises but no meaningful action.
In the October 2019 election, the Liberals were re-elected but with a minority of seats. That gave us hope that, in this new political context, there would be improved opportunities to further our cause.
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 brought a state of national emergency and radically changed the government priorities. We realized that it would be even more difficult to keep our cause “out front” and decided to postpone public activity.
Fortunately, we later found a new opportunity for powerful political action. The configuration of the House had changed, especially among the opposition parties, and the Bloc Québécois now had 32 MPs. They could offer new possibilities for action so we contacted them and, after significant discussions, they decided to get involved.
In May 2021, the critic for Veterans Affairs, MP Luc Desilets, met with the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Lawrence MacAulay, and asked questions about their refusal to abolish the “after 60 years” legal provision. He also pressed the minister about the inadequate financial assistance program for affected military widows, which was substituted for proper pensions.
MP Desilets was not satisfied by the minister’s responses. He followed up with a letter pressing the minister to have the government reconsider their decision and bring an end to this unfairness. See the feature and the letter in the Politics page.
In the 2021 election campaign, the Bloc Québécois included our cause in their electoral platform, which we see as a clear commitment to fight for a change in the pension legislation. In the decade we have been fighting this battle, no other party has put us in their platform.
See the feature in the News page.
The NDP Private Member’s Bill
The Coalition collaborated closely with the New Democratic Party in the preparation of a Private Member’s Bill proposing changes in the six pension plan acts restricting the right to the benefits of a survivor pension.
MP Irene Mathyssen introduced the PM Bill C-397 in February 2018. The NDP also launched a public petition to collect support in favor of the Bill. The Coalition advised its partners, inviting them to circulate the petition among their membership.
Unfortunately PMB’s are removed from the Order Paper with each prorogation of parliament but we understand that Irene’s daughter Lindsay (now the NDP MP for London-Fanshawe) is preparing a new one.
The September 2021 election has produced the same distribution of seats among the parties as in 2019 and renewed the minority status of the Liberal government. We continue to have the same hopes we had after the 2019 election but with a significant difference: this time we have a commitment from an important political ally.
The pandemic is still present but it is sufficiently under control that the government is now paying more attention to other issues. We are entering a new phase in our actions, and will be pushing even more to have our issue among those that government can no longer ignore.